Are Red Bull get­ting ready to quit F1?

“Ec­cle­stone cited Red Bull’s se­rial suc­cess as pri­mary rea­son for F1’s dwin­dling TV rat­ings”


like,” he said, stung, say sources close to him, by wide­spread ac­cu­sa­tions that his team had ob­tained an un­fair ad­van­tage. “We have had it all, but from our per­spec­tive there is a clear limit to what we can ac­cept.”

His mes­sage is un­equiv­o­cal: ex­clude my quadru­ple-ti­tle-win­ning team, and Red Bull is out of here. But what is the real mo­ti­va­tion for this threat? It can’t be the fair­ness, or other­wise, of the Tri­bunal. Con­sider that one of the rst re­forms in­sti­tuted by FIA Pres­i­dent Jean Todt af­ter tak­ing ofce in 2009 was a re­struc­ture of the FIA’s ju­di­cial sys­tem, from a World Mo­tor Sport Coun­cil – usu­ally presided over by Todt’s pre­de­ces­sor, Max Mosley – to a trans­par­ent and in­de­pen­dent body draw­ing on le­gal spe­cial­ists rep­re­sent­ing 14 coun­tries (and nom­i­nated in part by the F1 teams).

Clearly then, the FIA are no po­si­tion to inuence the ver­dict, as be­came clear dur­ing the hear­ing into the Mercedes/Pirelli tyre test last year, when the FIA found it­self heav­ily crit­i­cised. Given that Red Bull were among those whose protests set that ju­di­cial process in mo­tion, Mates­chitz must surely be aware of the tri­bunal’s in­de­pen­dence.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to de­code Mates­chitz’s ref­er­ence to “sport­ing fair­ness, po­lit­i­cal inuence and the like”. Red Bull en­joyed a £100m slice of F1’s 2013 rev­enues – within 3 per cent of that net­ted by Fer­rari, who are al­lo­cated a larger pro­por­tion than other teams on ac­count of their iconic sta­tus, and 60 per cent up on the earn­ings of Mercedes and McLaren, not to speak of a 200 per cent pre­mium over Lo­tus. Clearly Mates­chitz is in no po­si­tion to ques­tion “sport­ing fair­ness”, for money ul­ti­mately buys per­for­mance.

As for “po­lit­i­cal inuence”, how much more does he crave? The two Red Bull teams pro­vide twice the votes of, say, Fer­rari or McLaren at For­mula 1 Com­mis­sion meet­ings. Red Bull sit on F1’s newly de­vised Strat­egy Group – which frames reg­u­la­tions – by right. Horner reg­u­larly dines with FOM CEO Bernie Ec­cle­stone, and last year went on hol­i­day with the oc­to­ge­nar­ian.

Clearly, Mates­chitz’s sabre-rat­tling is rooted else­where, likely in en­gine part­ner Re­nault’s woes. Al­ready he is talk­ing of man­u­fac­tur­ing his own en­gines, as de­scribed in this col­umn last month – much as he ac­quired Jaguar Rac­ing be­fore re­struc­tur­ing the be­lea­guered team into the lean, mean ght­ing ma­chine it has be­come.

There ex­ists, though, ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that Mates­chitz is pre­par­ing for an exit. De­spite be­ing con­trac­tu­ally com­mit­ted Red Bull to F1 un­til 2020 – hence Strat­egy Group clout and a 20 per cent share of F1’s rev­enues – he has a pow­er­ful card in race spon­sor­ship. Wit­ness his pro­mo­tion of the Aus­trian GP at the Red Bull Ring. Of­fer ti­tle spon­sor­ship of three races for six years as a soft­ener, and Ec­cle­stone will surely be re­cep­tive.

Why this pos­si­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly when his team are crest­ing a wave? The an­swer lies in the law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns. No mat­ter how many more ti­tles Red Bull grab, they can­not pro­vide the same re­turn as that rst crown in 2010. And au­di­ence fa­tigue is set­ting in: Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was booed last year on podi­ums, while Ec­cle­stone cited Red Bull’s se­rial suc­cesses as the pri­mary rea­son for F1’s dwin­dling 2013 TV rat­ings.

The se­cret, as Benet­ton – the rst commercial en­tity to score ti­tles through team own­er­ship – learned to their cost, is strate­gic with­drawal, not bum­bling exit. By lay­ing the ground in ad­vance of the tri­bunal, Mates­chitz has hedged his bets re­gard­less of its out­come: if Red Bull with­draw, he can cite ‘Fuel-gate’ as a tip­ping point.

Canny, sure – but such can­ni­ness took Mates­chitz from trainee de­ter­gent sales­man to multi-bil­lion­aire…

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